10 most abundant gases in the atmosphere

Eric is a science teacher from the Philippines. He teaches atmospheric sciences: climatology, meteorology and aeronomy

The atmosphere is the layer of gas that surrounds our planet. It is by Earth’s gravity, so it does not escape into outer space. Its function is to absorb the harmful rays of the sun. It also protects us from the impacts of meteors and other celestial debris that fall on our planet. It is also the cause of the weather.

The atmosphere is made up of different gases in different quantities. Its most abundant gases are nitrogen and oxygen, which make up 99% of the air. It tracks argon and a very small amount of pollutants, greenhouse gases, and other gases by almost 1 percent.

The 10 most abundant gases in the atmosphere are shown in the table and pie chart below.

Top 10 most abundant gases in the atmosphere, by volume percentage

Gas nameFormulaPercentage of volume







The water






Carbon dioxide


















Percentage of volume of the main constituent of dry air

What are the characteristics of these 10 gases? Let’s find out below.

1. Nitrogen

Nitrogen (N2), also called nitrogen, is the most abundant gas in our atmosphere. It is an inert diatomic compound. Its name comes from the Greek words “nitron” which means “native soda” and “genes” for “producer”. It is used to make fertilizers, nylon, nitric acid, ammonia, and explosives. Plus, the air that half-empties your bag of chips is actually nitrogen. It prevents fleas from oxidizing, making them obsolete.

Nitrogen is essential for life and its compound nitrate (NO3) is needed to build DNA, RNA and amino acids. It is converted to nitrate by thunderstorms and nitrogen fixing bacteria. Bacteria capture atmospheric nitrogen to convert it to ammonia (NH3). Ammonia catalyzes biological oxidation and becomes nitrite (NO2) and the nitrite undergoes further oxidation and becomes nitrate. Nitrate nourishes the soil and is absorbed by plants. Plants convert it into amino acids. Animals cannot create their amino acids, so they consume plants for nutrients. When organisms die, they are broken down by bacteria and release ammonia and nitrogen into the atmosphere. They will be captured again by the bacteria and the process will repeat itself.

Nitrate is also formed when lightning strikes diatomic nitrogen. The two nitrogen atoms separate and combine rapidly with oxygen. Then they bind to the water molecule in the cloud forming the nitrate. The nitrate will fall with the rain, nourish the soil and be absorbed by the plants.

2. Oxygen

Oxygen (O2) is a very reactive diatomic gas. It combines easily with another element and is incorporated into many chemical compounds such as water (H2O) carbon dioxide (CO2). This is the cause of combustion. When oxygen combines with other elements in the air, combustion results.

Oxygen is released by countless plants, green algae and cyanobacteria as photosynthetic waste. It is needed and breathed by humans, animals, fungi, and other eukaryotic organisms to survive.

It can also form into three molecules of atoms, which is called ozone. The ozone layer is found in the stratosphere. This helps us block harmful ultraviolet rays from the sun.

3. Water

The amount of water (H2O) in the atmosphere can vary depending on weather conditions and location on earth, and it is not always in gaseous form – it can also be in solid form (such as ice and glaciers) and in liquid form (like ocean and river) naturally. In the tropical region, where the climate is hot, the water evaporates, so the humidity is high. In extremely cold regions, such as Antarctica, where water freezes, and in arid regions such as the Sahara Desert, water vapor in the air may be absent.

Most of the water is concentrated in the lower atmosphere. It is one of the four factors that influence the weather – the other factors are wind, temperature and pressure. During the hot day, the water on the earth’s surface is heated and evaporated to become part of the atmosphere. Once the air is cooled to its dew point, it condenses to form clouds and rushes down to earth as rain and . Water can also come in the form of fog, drizzle, hail, frost, and dew.

Water vapor is an efficient greenhouse gas and can contribute to global warming. Fortunately, he doesn’t stay in the air for long, so we don’t care. It condenses and returns to the earth naturally, unlike carbon dioxide and methane which last for decades.

Water covers about 70% of the Earth’s surface. It is essential for life on Earth. Besides drinking, people have many uses like bathing, irrigating, cooking, washing clothes, etc.

4. Argon

Argon (Ar) is a colorless, odorless, inert, non-reactive noble gas. It comes from the Greek word “argos” which means “not working” or “lazy” due to its inability to combine with another item. It is the third most abundant gas in the dry atmosphere, at almost one percent. However, it has no known environmental role. But in industry it is used for welding and production of titanium.

5. Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an acidic, inert and flammable chemical compound. These are the bubbles you see in soda, beer, and wine. It is formed during fermentation, decomposition of organic wastes and organisms, volcanic eruption, and the combustion of organic materials and fossil fuels. In addition, it is also produced and exhaled by humans, animals, fungi and other eukaryotic organisms, and it is taken up and used by plants during photosynthesis.

Carbon dioxide is a very important greenhouse gas. It absorbs many infrared wavelengths of sunlight which gives heat to our planet. Too much greenhouse gases can cause global warming. Global warming can cause climate change, which poses a serious threat to life on earth due to extreme weather conditions and widespread flooding. And unfortunately, carbon dioxide lasts for centuries in the air.

6. Neon

Like argon and other noble gases, neon does not react or combine with other elements. Neon is a monoatomic inert gas and makes up about two-thirds of the density of air. It is a colorless substance but has a red-orange glow in the vacuum tubes. It is commonly used in advertising signage, television tubes, lightning arresters and lasers.

7. Helium

Helium is named after the Greek sun god, Helios. This relates to the fact that it was discovered on the crown of the sun and was believed to exist only in the sun before it was found on earth. This rare gas is odorless, colorless and non-reactive. It has the lowest melting point (-272.2 ° C) and boiling point (-268.9 ° C) of the element.

Most of them are concentrated in the upper atmosphere because this gas is very light, so it floats in the sky. This is the reason why we used it to fill balloons and airships. It is the second most abundant chemical element in the universe, however, it is rare on earth. Due to its light weight, gravity is not strong enough to hold it, so it can escape into outer space.

8. Methane

Methane (CH4), also called swamp gas, is an odorless and flammable chemical compound. Methane is released from decaying organic waste and dead organisms, digesting termites and ruminants (animals with four-chambered stomachs like cows, deer, sheep, and giraffes), and is emitted by volcanoes and vents in the ocean floor. It is the main component of gas or fossil fuel that we use for cooking and that powers our motor vehicles.

Methane is the main contributor to the greenhouse and global warming. It is a very dangerous gas and 86 times more than carbon dioxide. Fortunately, it can only last 10 to 12 years, unlike CO2 it lasts for centuries.

9. Krypton

Krypton (Kr) is produced by the fission of radioactive uranium. The concentration of Krypton at the North Pole is 30% higher than at the South Pole because almost all the reactors and nuclear power plants in the world are located in the northern hemisphere.

Krypton is a colorless gas that glows purple at high temperatures and emits a very bright white light inside an electric field. The white light emitted by flash photography and bulbs is produced by krypton.

10. Hydrogen

The word hydrogen (H2) comes from the Greek “hydro” means “water” and genes to “form” because it is one of the parts that make up a water molecule. It is the lightest chemical element on the periodic table, so like helium, it floats in air and escapes into space. However, it is not used to fill balloons because it is combustible and can explode.

It is the most abundant element in the whole universe but rare in the earth’s atmosphere. Most of them are linked to many chemical compounds such as water and hydrocarbons. Its compounds are used in many industrial sectors, including glass, electronics and metallurgy.


For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What is the most abundant gas in the atmosphere?
  2. 99% of the earth’s atmosphere is made up of _.
    • nitrogen and oxygen
    • oxygen and carbon dioxide
  3. What form of oxygen has three atoms of itself?
  4. What gas is used to fill the balloon and the airship?

Answer key

  1. nitrogen
  2. nitrogen and oxygen
  3. ozone
  4. helium


#abundant #gases #atmosphere

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